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I Tried Walking in Los Angeles for a Week

What it’s like hoofing it in the car-centric city

06.28.16

You know that scene in Annie Hall when, prompted by Annie’s very far-off parking job, Alvy jokes, “Don’t worry. We can walk to the curb from here”? In LA, is it really a joke?

No. One of the most cliché-for-a-reason phenomena about living in LA is that people truly do not walk. There have been days, according to my phone’s “Health” app, where I maxed 200 steps.

This is nuts. It’s especially jarring after living in New York, but it’s a fact, and shortly after moving here I ceased to even notice it. A year and a half later, this realization so disgusted me that I inflicted a set of rules upon myself for one week — the main one being that I wasn’t allowed to drive.

But speaking of things that are nuts: LA is exceptionally large, and knowing that my friends would have likely had nothing to do with me that week if they, too, were not allowed to be in cars, I allowed myself to ride with people to things, so long as I would’ve involved myself in that activity with that person anyway. Also, they had to be the ones driving. I was also allowed two solo Uber rides over the course of the week.

The final rule of this walking project was a little more meaningful and mindful: I had to spend as much of the walking time as possible practicing walking meditation.

Much like every other form of meditation, the walking kind is difficult. But in a weird way because — unlike silent, sitting meditation, wherein your objective is, in loose terms, to bat away or let go of the plods of stuff your own brain ceaselessly creates, chews, churns, throws at you — the point shifts to evading distractions that the outside world throws at you. The goal is to allow your thought process to shift toward the sensations brought on by movement.

On Sunday, I *walked* to my curb, only to be picked up by my friend Tyler, who drove us about eight feet down the block for to-go coffees from Winsome — though to “save up” my walking, I waited in the car while he ran in. We then went to the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, where we *walked* for several hours through stimulating, consuming and exquisite environments like a proper rose garden and a Bonsai tree zoo. We got a little bit day drunk by accident — good thing I’m not driving — then walked up some stairs for oysters. For dinner I went to a sushi place by my house and eventually made my way — though by friend and not foot — to a Game of Thrones party comprised of my friends in their sweatpants.

I probably would have walked the same amount whether or not I was doing this walking project.

On Monday, I strapped on a pair of very funny and flat vintage Prada sandals and was off like a herd of sloth to get a cup of coffee…but I live with my best friend, Nathan, and he was driving to work so he dropped me off because, you know, LA.

I’m lucky in that I can work from “wherever” so today I worked from the cafe. Later, I canceled plans with friends who don’t leave their neighborhoods or don’t drive, then walked to Ostrich Farm for dinner at the bar and spent the night with friends and their cars. Total walking time was about an hour and a half, most of which was spent semi-meditating.

Tuesday began with an hour-long coffee and water excursion. Since it was a work morning, I produced enough stress hormones to entirely negate the benefits of walking meditation. Caffeine nailed the coffin shut. And since it was day three, I’d become wise enough to carry two bags, like a camel: a satchel plus a tote filled with the former contents of my car (a gallon of water, a computer, KIND Bars), and to wear sneakers. I was grounded that night (again, self-inflicted), but took a break from work to walk alongside — and faster than — Dodger’s Stadium traffic as it snailed along Sunset. This felt like a cool way to really stick it to an LA cliché. Total walking time was about three hours, most of which was spent yelling over street sounds into my phone and not meditating.

On Wednesday, I walked to pick up coffee and then to CVS for water, and it took forty very long minutes. If I’m one thing, it’s honest, so full disclosure, I big-time cheated on Wednesday and used my car for two work-related excursions. I also stopped to pick up lunch — sue me. But then I dutifully returned my car to my house, worked and later walked for an hour and a half on Sunset. I passed things like The Olive Motel (infamous for murder!) and a lot of ramen slingers while on my way to Cafe Stella.

I’d intended to walk to the warm, ancient, very French lounge that we were going to afterwards, but my friends have cars and I am, as you may have realized by this point, lazy. Total walking time was about two hours, but had I not cheated, I would “literally” still be walking.

On Thursday, after getting a ride from Winsome to my house, which is literally on the same block, I had intended to pick up an ice cream cake on Sunset Boulevard to give to my friend for his birthday. Have you ever carried an ice cream cake, on foot, in the summer? I did not pick up the ice cream cake.

I DID walk to dinner later to meet Nathan — and his car — all the while blissfully avoiding the Health app. Total walking time was probably half an hour.

On Friday, we were scheduled to shoot for this story but the car, in a fit of irony, wouldn’t turn on. We rescheduled. Normal work day resumed. Later I went to a performance — by way of Tyler’s car — at Maccarone Gallery. We tried to walk to the LA river after but couldn’t find it, so we got dinner and then fell asleep on the patio of a bar, next to our friends, and never walked home. I probably took 100 steps that day and tried to cheat.

On Saturday I walked to lunch, then drove to The Grove with Tyler. We *walked* around, and later, again by car, went to Cecconi’s for a drink. People meet there to have affairs and/or talk business over long, flavorless breadstick-crackers, crudités and pastel-toned cocktails served in stemmed crystal glasses. We then drove downtown for dinner with friends, went out in Silver Lake and didn’t walk home. Walking mostly only occurred between parking spots and destinations — but it was the weekend.

The week drew to a close. I learned that walking meditation, when practiced outside of a designated arena like the Shambhala Center in New York (where I learned to do it) and instead amidst murder motels and garbage, is more difficult — yet still effective. I have very severe anxiety and this week it wasn’t so bad. Which means the rumors proved to be true: meditation and exercise, even of the mild variety, are good for you.

Two more suspicions confirmed: a person really cannot get around by foot in this city, and I am very lazy.

And yet, as I write this three weeks later, I still haven’t had my car fixed. Life by foot, Uber, boy and friends has lifted the sense of isolation that I once struggled with and assumed came with the territory of living in LA. I much prefer living here without a car and I am, it turns out, happy to walk to the curb from here.

Follow Alexandra Malmed on Instagram, @alexandramalmed. Photographed by Katie McCurdy. Check out her website and follow her on Instagram @katiemccurdy_

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  • Natty

    I moved from NYC to Houston 2 years ago and I too am shocked by how little I walk now! I literally sit on my ass –be it in the car or at work– ALL FREAKING DAY. Further compounding the issue is the fact that its actually 100+ degrees for the better part of the year, which is obviously not conducive to outdoor activities of any kind. I would love to try this challenge, though… maybe I’ll give it a go in the fall when it cools down a little.

    • Summer

      I live in Austin and this is TOO TRUE. The Health step tracker is my own personal albatross…

    • I live in NYC. I need to remind myself that 10,000 steps is not sitting on my ass all day! My personal record is 47,000 one Saturday, trying to hit that 50,000…

      • Natty

        That is incredible, I miss those days! If I go straight to/from the office and don’t exercise or do anything extra after work, I average around 6,000 steps a day. It’s not okay. Since I moved to TX I’ve gained about 8 pounds despite no changes to my diet and workout regimen… it’s all just from driving instead of walking. Ugh.

        The good news is my shoes have a MUCH longer shelf life nowadays…

        • re: shelf life – my mom lives a suburban life now. She’d gift me a pair of shoes and follow up with “but don’t wear these outside.” X_X I don’t even wear make up, I will never be the woman who changes her shoes in the office

        • I also live less than ten minutes near work so it can be easy to barely get any steps. I force myself to take a 30 minute lunch walk every day (so sick of the 15 minute radius around Astor Place now haha)

  • Aydan

    I am fully living that no car life (by choice and thankfully by environment). I moved back to Seattle from London and I knew that walking eight miles a day was no biggie in London, but knew it was going to be nearly impossible to replicate that here (hello built in exercise — seriously, I hardly went to the gym in London). But moving back to Seattle, I’ve been hyper conscious about walking too, I’ve held off from getting a car and luckily have about a 35 min walk to work, which I do usually both ways (maybe not home if I’m meeting people for dinner or drinks) and let me tell you getting in at least 3-4 miles of walking feels OH SO GOOD!! After sitting at a desk all day, walking becomes meditative (I don’t listen to music while walking) and such a special way to either gear up for the work day or decompress before starting my evening!! Kudos to you for trying it out, but I def think that city planning has a lot to do with walkability for sure!

  • The LA Lady

    After living in Portland, Chicago and Detroit, I have to say I walked very little in my first few years of living in LA and I missed it. Over the years, I’ve incorporated walking into my life so that it’s meditative and not a true means of transportation. With Metro expanding its service, LA will become *more* walkable, but it will never be Manhattan or Portland. This is a huge, sprawling city and if you ever want to see your friends in Hermosa Beach and you live in Silver Lake, cars are a requirement (whether you’re the driver or the passenger).

  • Ashley

    As much as people hate on the valley I live there and walk a ton on the weekends, I also park far away from bars where there’s free parking & I take a long walks at lunch if I’m wearing reasonable shoes.

  • LKNMRE

    I live a car-free lifestyle in LA and have no problems. Then again, I live in Hollywood, where Trader Joe’s, Starbucks and lots of great bars are less than a mile from me. Moving here from Chicago, though, I definitely started walking less and Ubering more. It takes time to get back into it.

  • Amy Leverton

    I am a total walker, I just moved here from London and don’t have a licence yet. I live in Los Feliz which is very walkable and don’t have a problem at all. Sure I do feel like a bit of a loser carrying my shopping bags 5 blocks but I pretend I’m walking to the car… for a long, long time. You didn’t mention public transport in this piece and it sounds like you could have used the 2 or the 4 busses a lot… I use busses and metro trains a ton and wish people were less snobby about it. We’re not snobby in NY or London so why LA? I will get a licence and a car but I want to continue getting my 10,000 steps daily average because why not?!

    • LKNMRE

      In all fairness, LA buses are disgusting. I took public transit in three major cities before I moved to LA but I refuse to here. The train, yes, but the buses, oh God.

      • Amy Leverton

        I think it might depend on what bus route you used… Sure there are old people/ poor people and you do get the odd homeless person but I really don’t think about such things too much. If its clean (and so far all of my bus trips in LA have been perfectly clean, I must’ve taken over 100 journeys) then its no different from buses in Tokyo, London, New York, Berlin, Paris, Milan, San Francisco, Melbourne, etc. I’ve also taken the bus in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh though so maybe I’m a little less fussy! 😉 Or maybe you just had a bad experience. Give it another try, its really not bad!

        • Lola Roqueplo

          I couldn’t agree more ! I’m from Paris and have no driving licence so when I interned LA I had no choice but to use public transportation and bike. Had no problem at all ! And I was living in Silverlake and working in Woodlandhills. Most people never even give a try to public transportation here

  • I visited LA for 1.5 days and the traffic was no joke. I grew up 8 miles away from NYC in NJ and have lived in NYC for almost ten years – that did not prepare me for LA. What felt worse than the traffic was trying to find parking in a lot to grab a bite of food.

    We stayed at the Ace Hotel in downtown LA and decided to eat dinner and breakfast within walking distance. It was eerily empty compared to Manhattan, but there were people commuting on foot and by bus – they just weren’t white.

    I would recommend the How to be Amazing with Michael Ian Black podcast for general listening, but I especially like the smart recommendations at the end of each episode. Dan Savage’s general recommendation was the bicycle, particularly in LA

  • DEE2468

    I live in Silver lake and work in DTLA if I took that nasty bus it would take me 2.5 hours vs a 15 min drive. We might not walk much in LA because like I mentioned it takes a while to get to where you want to go to and time is money. Why don’t I bike? because I don’t want to show up to work all sweaty, people drive crazy, and I wouldn’t be able to wear my usual dresses and skirts. I love driving I get to go when I need to go wherever I want, and I don’t have to have unnecessary human interactions. So f that Ill save my pleasant walks for the weekends and I work out so ya. If you feel guilty then get up off your ass and work out!

  • Lebanese Blonde

    You’re my literal neighbor! Ostrich Farm! Dodger Stadium! Friends who have cats! Let’s hang out at Stories!

    • Lebanese Blonde

      Re: walking–I have discovered the joy of (a few of) the bus routes. I definitely do mostly drive places, but because I work in the Jewelry District where parking is 12 bucks/day minimum, I just take the 2 or the 4 straight down Sunset to work, then walk a few blocks from work to the Y (usually take a Lyft home after the gym though….it costs 4 bucks and when I’m post-gym-shower and it’s getting a tad too dark to wander around downtown alone with a laptop, those are dollars-well-spent.) My rule is I walk within neighborhoods, but drive between them.

  • Skully

    no one walks in phoenix either. 9 months out of the year it’s too hot and the other time everything is too far. the public transit isn’t super great unless you live in the center of the valley.

  • mediagirl77

    I’ve lived in LA for 2 years with no car, walking, taking the bus and train and the occasional Lyft or Uber.

  • Maia

    I was kind of disappointed by this article. I wish it was a little more focused on the actual walking (observations of the streets and city, impact on social life, observations on how it affected mood and body, etc.) and less on describing the author’s social plans and favorite cafes/galleries/lounges. Cool idea though.

    • sporanges

      I felt similarly about this article. Below is a piece that I enjoyed very much about LA. However it does include end goals based in food and it is running instead of walking. I know it’s not the same experience but it does offer some cultural and sociological insights about the many beautiful neighborhoods of LA.

      http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-ca-cam-running-los-angeles-20160327-story.html

      • Maia

        Hey, a little late but thanks for the recommendation – I liked that article, it had a nice balance of observations.

  • Melissa Marsella

    obsessed with this article!! i love to walk in LA, but recently have been super lazy. im inspired to go on walks again! and also gave me a few interesting new food/drink spots to check out 🙂

  • Vickee

    I always said LA girls always appear so glamorous in their Stilettos because they drive everywhere. Try walking around Chicago in high heels every day for periods of time! lol I think I’ve gotten used to the pain of this that driving all the time might make me WORSE at wearing heels -__-

  • Mon S

    This article and the comments makes LA look like my worst nightmare. I love driving but not for short distances, that’s pointless. It takes the same amount of time to take your car out of the garage, lock the garage, drive 2km and find a parking than it is to walk that distance. Plus if people in LA walked more, they wouldn’t need to obsess about dieting that much because they would naturally burn more calories every day. Judging other people for walking is completely insane and it doesn’t make any sense at all.

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